parents are tackling tough mental health topics through children's books

Teaching children valuable social-emotional skills is crucial to their development. Books are a good tool for adults to use when introducing the concept of mental health to their young ones. This strategy of teaching is called bibliotherapy. This activity involves the interaction of written media with the purpose of delving into the concepts to increase emotional awareness, education, and healing. Children benefit from this way of learning as it provides them insight into the situation or issues they may be experiencing or could one day confront. Introducing mental health to your child will help them become more aware of their own feelings and develop empathy towards what others may be going through. 

Children’s therapist and current adjunct psychology professor, Nicole Del Duca, is an outspoken advocate for children’s mental health. Del Duca, along with her many other professions, is also the co-owner of a consulting agency called Growth Now LLC, which provides consultations for parents and schools utilizing the Nurtured Heart Approach. 

Communicating to children how and why they are feeling the way that they are can be difficult but it is “absolutely imperative to their growth,” said Del Duca. By demonstrating ways that they deal with their emotions, parents can be role models for their children. According to Del Duca, “if you, as a parent, are feeling angry, tell your child and even tell them that you need to reset yourself (example: "I'm stuck in traffic and it is making me angry. I think I need to take a deep breath.").” This will not only teach children that it is okay to have these challenging feelings, but it will also teach them how to handle their emotions.

The Child Mind Institute studies the adolescent mind and presents yearly reports that demonstrate what makes adolescent years exciting, important and potentially dangerous - including these years as a significant risk period for mental health disorders. The Institute stated, “Mental health disorders are the most common health issues faced by our nation’s school-aged children. One in five children suffers from a mental health or learning disorder, and 80% of chronic mental disorders begin in childhood.” The organization promotes awareness of the developmental issues that children face today and how we can identify and support the unavoidable challenges of life. 

There are numerous social, emotional learning books that can assist children in their emotional growth. “An aspect of bibliotherapy that I enjoy sharing with the children I work with is that each book will typically have a character that may be dealing with a similar situation that the child is going through. The child will understand that they are not alone and they can explore how the character is navigating the situation,” said Del Duca. Bibliotherapy not only helps children regulate their emotions but it also teaches them how to identify their emotions and gain an understanding into the root of their feelings. 

 Healing Feelings by Leslie Baker is a healing story for children coping with an adult's mental illness. The story provides hope for healing children and assists them in understanding that they are not at fault for other’s emotions. By helping children identify their own feelings, Healing Feelings also helps children recognize the feelings that adults may be experiencing and how these feelings can impact a child and family. In an interview with EmpowerNetSolutions, Baker said, “ I chose writing a book because when we read books to children we really have the opportunity to connect with them and to interact closely.” Baker hopes that this book opens up the opportunity to dialogue with children about mental illness and the difficulties their parents may be facing.

Ruby Finds a Worry is an excellent children’s book that deals with anxiety. The author Tom Percival introduces us to Ruby, who is a young child that develops anxiety when a small worry snowballs into a big worry and starts to overcrowd her happiness. Ruby’s worry is initially seen as a small creature- like a dust ball. But the worry grows and grows until it takes up half the school bus. It is not until Ruby communicates with someone else, who also has a worry, that she can control her worries and that the feelings she is experiencing are normal. “Talking about your concerns helps you deal with it,” said Percival in an interview with Scholastic. “It helps to remind readers to be open about how they are feeling.” Through Ruby’s experiences children can normalize speaking out about their worries and struggles that they face and seek help if they encounter feelings of anxiety. 

Along the same lines, How Big Are Your Worries Little Bear?, tells the story about Little Bear, a bear cub who is a worrier. Anxious about school, soccer practice, and monsters under his bed, Little Bear worries day and night, regardless of others telling him to stop worrying. When Little Bear talks to his mother, he soon realizes that his worries are not so big and that the willingness to share with a helpful listener can have a positive outcome in times of hardship. This children’s book introduces young readers to feelings of anxiety and teaches them that everyday fears and worries can be overcome. 

Understanding mental illness is just as important for children as it is for adults and putting an end to the stigma around mental health is necessary. “It is so important for parents to be open about mental health, as this is something that impacts every single person at some point in their lives,” said Del Duca. 

April 6, 2022

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